Aaah Bali by Lauren
Sitting in my pajamas, I stare at the rain falling sideways on this late June morning in the middle of Swinter (summer / winter). We have basically had no summer here in Amsterdam so that’s my new term for this ridiculous season peppered with a day or two of the sun peaking behind the clouds and rising to a whopping 70 degrees here and there, but mostly its been in 50s and 60s on the longest days of the year. I know I can’t complain too much, since I’ve just come from two weeks in Cupertino, and a week in HOT Texas, but it still bums me out a bit to have essentially no summer. In order to fix that scenario and ensure that we had some heat in our lives, Stefan and I went to Bali for a proper long vacation together .
We hadn’t had a vacation without any of my family or friends in almost two years. So we were due. Big time. When trying to figure out where to go, we knew we wanted to relax and do nothing (which is fine for me for about a day or two) and I also wanted to mix it with some culture. We thought about Greece, the Maldives, and Bali. Bali has been on my hit list for a while, even though it’s a little eat, pray, loveish right now. Bali seemed to have everything we were looking for: amazing beaches, a lot of culture, adventure, diving, relaxation, good food and most importantly warm weather. And it was a chance for Stefan to visit the country his grandparents are from. Yep, that’s right folks, Stefan my 6’2″ white – gorgeous Belgian is half Indonesian. His grandparents were colonists so after the war, they all got the boot, left the plantations and the servants to start over in Belgium.
So Bali it is. It was somewhat confusing on figuring out where to go. Some beaches the swimming isn’t ideal, some beaches are volcanic, some nice ones are touristy, and I wanted to do some diving. We decided to split the trip up into three places – The Menjaran Resort in West Bali, Ubud, and Jimbaran. The Menjaran is in the West Bali National Park, completely remote, in the jungle, monkeys walking alongside you on the paths, beach steps from our bungalow, and since its also a marine reserve, it had amazing diving with clear warm water, healthy coral and abundancy of fishes. And incredible sunsets.
Jimbaran is a beach town close to the airport but feels miles away from the mayhem. We stayed at the Jimburan Puri Bali, a beautiful resort with beach front property (only a few resorts in Jimbaran are actually on the beach). The town is known for its incredible seafood, and every day the warungs (restaurants) on the beach put out tables and chairs in the sand, water lapping through your toes and stars twinkling overhead while you dine on a seafood basket of your choice. A juicy lobster, a whole grilled snapper, a crab, skewers of squid, fresh jumbo prawns, and saucy clams are accompanied by garlicky water spinach, salad, soup, four dipping sauces and two beers for the whopping price of $20. Straight out of the sea on onto our plates. It was heaven.
Ubud is the cultural hub of Bali. It’s known for its Indonesian arts as well as its resident expat artists. Yoga, spirituality, meditation, massages, hindu temples, this is your place. For as spiritual of a place it was with miles of desolate fields of rice paddies, on the main drag it was also extremely chaotic, scooters buzzing the streets, touters yelling “taxi?” in your ear instead of hello, peddlers with baskets of knives on your head following you around until you purchase their wares. This was our city for activities. We hiked through rice paddies meeting and chatting with local artists along the way. We rode bikes through traditional Bali villages, learning about local culture and traditions and chatting with villagers. At the palace we watched a local traditional balinese dance, with dancers adorned in elaborate guilded costumes.
And I took a traditional Balinese cooking class. I was picked up from my hotel bright and early by Paon Bali Cooking Class. They whisked us to the local market (which only a day earlier the woman with the knives on her head wouldn’t leave me alone!) which transforms from a wet market in the morning to the tourist market in the afternoon. We learned about the core ingredients and spices in Balinese cooking. What they looked like, what smelled like. We tasted the local fruits like jackfruits and mangosteens.
After being encompassed by the unique smells and colors and sounds of the buzzing market, we were transported to our teacher Puspa’s calm traditional Balinese Village. A traditional village consists of the entire family living in one compound. It’s built around community and tradition and culture. An offering is left at the entrance gate to ward off any evil spirits, each compound has its own temple, and then separate buildings for each of the families, a separate kitchen, and bathroom. The class is big with about 20 people, and our elegant teacher Puspa explains the entire eight course meal we are making while her husband Wayan provides Balinese background music. A more modern kitchen is lined up with about 16 burners and we get to work. It’s an interactive class which I love, basically everyone helps out with different parts of the meal – chopping garlic, stir frying tempeh, forming minced chicken skewers, mixing sauces, etc. We learn about how the Balinese cook and the core of their recipes involves making a basic yellow sauce in what they call the “Balinese Blender”, which is essentially a gianormous mortar and pestal! We all take a turn churning out the sauce.
Then we eat what we’ve made. From delicious clear mushroom and vegetable soup to the cripsy sweet and spicy tempeh, which was my overall favorite. We made typical dishes like Gado Gado which is Vegetables in Peanut Sauce, and Minced Chicken on Bamboo strips to Steamed Fish in banana leaves. All insanely delicious, all quintessential Indonesian. Sometimes the bummer about going to cooking classes in different countries is you feel you can’t make this stuff at home. And really some of these ingredients are difficult to find anywhere. Galangal?? Wha? Palm sugar? kaffier limes? Kecap Manis? Luckily in Amsterdam we have quite a big resident Indonesian population so the one thing I can actually find here are Indonesian ingredients. So I tried to replicate the Tempeh dish at home, for a little taste and remembrance of Bali. Even though it was only 60 degrees outside, on that evening there was sunshine in my kitchen.
Tempeh Me Goreng- Deep Fried Tempe in Sweet Soy Sauce
2 packets of tempeh
10 red chilies
5 Tbsp Indonesian sweet soy sauce, Kecap Manis
8 cloves of garlic
1 spring onion
5 kaffire lime leaves (i didn’t have these)
1/4 liter coconut oil for frying (or any frying oil)
salt and pepper
Slice the tempeh into thin strips. Boil the coconut oil in a pan, add the tempreh and deep fry until golden brown then remove and set aside
Slice the red chilis and remove their seeds. Slice the garlic, shallots, spring onion and red chilis; heat aout 3 tablespoons of coconut oil in another pan and saute them until they are light brown
Add the deep- fried tempeh to the pan of garlic, shallots, spring onions and chili and mix, adding the kecap Manis and the broken kaffir lime leaves. Stir well to coat tempeh in the sauce.
Kuah Wong – Clear Mushroom & Vegetable Soup
2 cups mushrooms of any kind
1 small carrot
string beans (for 1/2 diced cup)
5 cloves of garlic
5 kaffir lime leaves
1 spring onion
1 hot chili (or more to taste)
1 liter chicken (or vegetable) stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp deep fried shallots (optional for garnish)
Separate stalks from mushrooms and peel the mushroom heads. Slice mushrooms, garlic, spring onion and shallots. Cube the carrot into centimeter pieces. Slice the chili and remove its seeds. Cut the lemon into slices
Saute garlic, shallots and spring onion until light brown. Add mushrooms and chili and continue to saute
Pour in the chicken (or vegetable) stock and squeeze the lemon slices over the stock. Break the kaffire lime leaves and add to the stock.
Bring the stock to a boil then add carrot, green beans and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve in a bowl with deep fried shallots as a garnish.